Manuel Zelaya sworn in as President of Honduras

Monday, March 13, 2006

Yesterday saw the inauguration of a new president of Honduras in Tegucigalpa, the nation's capital. Manuel Zelaya, a former bank director and congressman, defeated National Party candidate Porifirio Lobo Sosa in a hotly contested presidential election in November 2005. His Liberal Party, however, still remains the de facto minority in Honduras, since the National Party shares an alliance with the Christian Democrats.

Zelaya replaces former President Ricardo Maduro, who served one term in office from 2002-2006. He inherits a nation that is dealing with serious issues concerning crime and poverty. Maduro established himself as a hardliner towards gang violence in Honduras, most notably regarding the highly dangerous Mara Salvatrucha gang. While he did a great deal to crack down on violence in his term, he also drew sharp criticisms from human rights groups for his methods, which did not include the use of rehabiliation programs.

Zelaya and the Liberals promised such reforms, but he also promised to double the Honduran police force during his tenure, as well as create 400,000 jobs between now and 2010, when his term expires. He has also stated his support for a new free trade agreement with the United States, in addition to planning new policies to improve agriculture production, still the primary export of the Honduran economy.

Mr. Zelaya served as a national congressman from 1985 to 1998, and was instrumental in implementing the so-called "Open counties program" which increased decision-making powers of municipalities, a plan he says will grow further during his administration. He has been known as a wealthy landowner who carried himself with a sort of bravado both in Congress and on the campaign trail, often dressed in cowboy boots and Stetson hats. He has also worked in engineering, in addition to his successful careers in agriculture and politics.

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